The billion-dollar price tag of ongoing land disputes: A look at the cost of Douglas Creek Estates

The billion-dollar price tag of ongoing land disputes: A look at the cost of Douglas Creek Estates
CALEDONIA—Members of the national media gathered at the Cayuga Headquarters of the Ontario Provincial Police, Haldimand County Detachment, at 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, 2006 to hear Mr. Maurice Pillon, Deputy Commissioner, explain the action the force took at Caledonia when they converged on the Douglas Creek Estates development to execute a Court Order to evict those members of the Six Nations who had been occupying the site since February 28. According to Mr. Pillon, three of the participating officers sustained minor injuries that required medical attention. Ironically, the protestors and additional supporters returned to the site after the police left the scene and were still continuing to occupy the property on Monday, April 24. —Haldimand Press archive photo from 2006.

By Haldimand Press Staff

HALDIMAND—Ongoing land disputes have numerous costs to taxpayers, which Haldimand Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett believes end up in the billions of dollars when looking at the impact along the Grand River alone.

Exact figures can be difficult to come by, so much so that Barrett could not provide a specific figure as to the cost of the Douglas Creek Estates (DCE) situation in 2006. However, in 2006, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory estimated the direct costs at about $55 million to the province, including buying the land, hiring policing and negotiation services, and fixing damages to property. Tory suggested the policing costs alone could have been as high as $30 million, not including the new police detachment in Caledonia.

Today, among the known costs are about $1 million in damages to the transformer station that was burned, a $20 million settlement to hundreds of residents and local businesses in a lawsuit alleging the OPP failed to properly protect them, an approximately $17 million payout to DCE developer Henco Industries, about $4 million to contractors who had already started work on the site, and at least $15 million for policing from the onset of the protest on February 28, 2006 to October 31 of that year.

While Haldimand County has a contract with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to provide policing services in the county, Supervisor of Corporate Affairs, Kyra Hayes, noted for the current protest, “All policing related to indigenous occupations or protests have been deemed to be a provincial responsibility due to the significance and impact of the issue across Ontario. As a result, Haldimand does not expect to pay any costs over and above the current contracted resources.”

However, Haldimand is liable for any damages to roads under their care, such as Argyle Street. Whether the municipality or province foots the bill, it ultimately falls to public funds. Despite this, even the exact cost of policing for DCE is still debated, particularly since policing costs related to DCE didn’t end when the initial blockades came down.

Barrett said he “did a lot of work” on gathering costs from DCE around 2008.

“I was presented back then with a report … (on) the potential cost for policing after two years with man hours alone they figured about 2 million man hours,” said Barrett on a citizen’s group report he received back then.

“Back then they were estimating $100/man hour. That’s compensation for salaries, plus pensions and what have you. I remember people kicking that number around that after two years it was something like $200 million for policing, vehicles, and billings,” continued Barrett.

Barrett noted that since then there has been further “incidents” at the site, only adding to the original total, including Argyle Street South in front of DCE being closed twice this year alone.

“I don’t know if it was $50 million or $200 million … but those policing costs in my view pale in comparison to the lost opportunity costs,” said Barrett, explaining how the direct costs of DCE may only be a small portion of the true cost of land disputes.

Barrett said that around that time there was talks of a TSC Store, Walmart, and a “major food chain” coming to Dunnville. Over a decade later, Dunnville never received these specific builds. Barrett attributes this to the land disputes at the time, including a “warrior flag” being placed on a bulldozer on the property that was expected “to locate those kinds of businesses”.

“These are lost opportunities for economic activity, and that’s Dunnville, let alone Caledonia. And Brantford has significant, significant lost opportunities,” said Barrett, noting one Irish company that was to bring a project worth “millions” to the city who then “walked away” because of protests over their proposed location.

“I remember, too, the Standing Committee on Estimates said (around 2008) when you add it all together up and down the river … there was an estimate of something like a $4 billion hit to the economy,” said Barrett. “There was loss of businesses — companies that didn’t open up, or businesses that closed.”

“The other measure of economic impact and how much this is costing us, is house prices,” continued Barrett. “I know I testified before the Finance Committee, this would have been maybe around 2007, and at that time we were told real estate prices in Caledonia had declined 15 to 40%. I know many people could not sell their house. They gave up on selling their house.”

“These are just some of the estimates. I don’t know that anyone ever did a concrete study on it all,” concluded Barrett. He added that there are other costs that cannot be measured.

“The cost to people’s mental health, for example,” said Barrett. “I’ve sat at many kitchen tables with people on various streets in Caledonia, and the stress is incredible. Fear for the safety of their family, fear for their house, concern about people in their backyard at night. That kind of cost is chilling, and you don’t wish that on anybody.”

The Six Nations Land Claims Research Office brought forward 29 land claim disputes to Canada in 1974. Since then, only one has been resolved, with Six Nations formally filing to have the remainder resolved in 1995. This claim asks that the Canadian and Ontario governments provide an account of all sold land and what was done with the profits, which were to be put in a trust for Six Nations’ use.

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